Lost in translation

Chris Kern chriskern99 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 28 15:40:19 UTC 2008

Lately I'm seeing on the Internet more and more a new sense of "lost in
translation" -- the usage involves the person applying the verb "lost" to
themselves, and it tends to mean that the person is having some kind of
difficulty due to a lack of understanding of a foreign language.  The
instance I saw today was someone bemoaning their inability to play a
particular Japanese video game because she thought the menus and commands
would be too hard to understand without Japanese knowledge -- the exact text
she used was "If I buy this game I'm TOTALLY gonna get lost in
translation."  I have also seen people use the phrase to describe themselves
having difficulties translating text into English -- they're not having
problems expressing nuances of the original text, they're having problems
understanding the basic meaning.  Another use is to express difficulty
speaking the language of a country while visiting or living there.

Google only brings up 630 or so hits for "I'm lost in translation" so this
is not a particularly common usage, but I wonder where it comes from.  I
haven't seen the movie _Lost in Translation_ so I don't know if that has
anything to do with it.  It seems to me to be related to a common usage of
the term "translate" when the person is actually just talking about reading
or understanding something in a foreign language.  So perhaps it's just a
blending of the common "I'm lost" to express confusion or lack of
understanding, and the use of "translation" to mean any kind of dealings
with a foreign language.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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